A reader writes:
I’m looking for advice on how to deal with rude recruiters, due to a phone interview with one earlier this morning.
A third-party recruiter contacted me for a slew of opportunities he was hired to fill for a start-up company. Presumably, he found my profile on LinkedIn, as a few others have in recent months. Our initial 30-minute phone conversation about his client went very well, and after reviewing a position description forwarded to me in follow-up via email, we set a second more formal phone interview, during which he screened me to write a report for his client. This one- hour conversation went very well as well, until he started asking about compensation, at which point his tone of voice became quite gruff, aggressive, and at one point even demeaning.
Recruiter: Tell me what is your compensation structure?
Me: What do you mean by compensation structure?
Recruiter: What is your base pay and bonus structure?
Me: I’m not comfortable revealing that information. I would rather you tell me what the salary range for this Director level position is that you sent me a description for, and I’ll let you know if that meets my expectations.
Recruiter: No, you have to tell me your salary information. This is how it works. Your potential offer will be based on how much you earn right now and without this information we can not proceed.
Me: I don’t understand. Shouldn’t the offered salary be based on the position the company is looking to fill, and the skills and experience which I bring to them? I am not interested in wasting my time our yours either, don’t you know the salary range for this position?
Recruiter: No, it’s not my time, it’s my client’s time that you would be wasting! Yes, I know their range, but the offer is based on YOUR current salary.
Me: I’m sorry, I still don’t understand. Shouldn’t the salary offered be based on what I bring to the firm?
Recruiter: Look, I’ve done a lot of recruiting and occasionally I come across situations like this. Look, you’re just one in a million and so if it’s not you it will be someone else.
Me: Mhmm, well, I can give you a range of what my salary expectations are for the next opportunity I take on.
Recruiter: Okay that is fine.
I gave him my range and he said, “okay, that is in line with the Associate Director position.” I pointed out that I was forwarded the description of Director, and the Associate Director position is for someone with less work experience. He said, “Sure, so the company may choose to hire you at a higher level, in which case your range would still be fine.” I let him know that he should understand my position too of not wanting to be short-sold, and he said that based on my salary expectations I don’t need to worry about that.
Now, without his tone of voice added to this dialogue, the conversation may not seem as aggressive as it sounded to me in conversation. But it is quite difficult for anyone to overlook his condescending remarks about how I was wasting his client’s time and that I was just one in a million resumes that he was reviewing and was easily replaceable. If that were the case, then why did he contact me first for this opportunity? And wouldn’t we have achieved the same outcome if he gave me a range and I let him know it was too low for me? Thirdly, as a representative of the firm he’s hiring for, do I want to work with an employer that doesn’t value me and has the attitude that he can replace me at the drop of a hat? In my opinion, this is no way to hire top talent, especially for a rapidly growing start-up.
I wish I had stood my ground more strongly and let him know that in fact I was averaging 2-3 interviews a week, that many recruiters and HR reps were finding my 5+ years of industry experience and excellent education profile to be quite appealing, and remind him that he was trying to recruit someone who is quite comfortably employed, and therefore not desperate for his client’s offer letter. However, I didn’t want to get in the way of an opportunity to speak to the firm itself.
Do you have recommendations on how I could have handled this conversation better, and the attitude with which I should proceed in this company’s interview process? I’m worried about leaving money on the table, distraught that an opportunity which I was otherwise quite excited about has been tainted by this disrespectful conversation, and worried about what this experience means going forward in the interview process with this firm.
Why, yes, I do have advice about handling conversations like this: Don’t deal with jerks. You sound like you have plenty of options, so you can simply decline to work with people who operate this way.
At the same time, it also sounds like you took a fairly confrontational approach right off the bat, which you didn’t need to do.
Let’s re-write that conversation to show you how it would have gone with a different approach.
Recruiter: Tell me what is your compensation structure?
You: I’m looking for a range of $X to $Y. Is that in the ballpark?
At that point the recruiter probably would have just told you, but if not, then you’d get something like this:
Recruiter: What are you making currently? I need your salary history.
You: My employer’s salary structure is covered by my confidentiality agreement with them, but I’m looking for $X to $Y.
Again, at this point the recruiter is probably going to stop pushing, but let’s say that he doesn’t.
Recruiter: You have to tell me your current salary or we can’t proceed.
You: I’m sorry to hear that. I’m assuming you think I’m a strong candidate since you contacted me, and I’ve told you what I’d need to earn in order to leave my current job. But if we can’t proceed further, that’s fine.
Now, I want to emphasize that this advice accounts for the fact that you have options. If you didn’t have options and were desperate for this job, and the recruiter was insistent, you might have no choice but to give in and cough up your current salary. I think that’s BS for all the same reasons you do (it’s no one’s business but yours; compensation should be based what the company thinks your worth is, not what someone else thought your worth was; etc.), but the reality is that if you’re desperate for the opportunity, you don’t have the luxury of standing on principle.
You sound like you do have options, so exercise them by choosing not to work with recruiters who aren’t rude.